Rea striving to close the gap on world foe Bautista
Jonathan Rea once again failed to get the better of World Superbike Championship title rival Alvaro Bautista, finishing third fastest in free practice at Motoland Aragon yesterday.
The Kawasaki-riding Ulsterman, a record-breaking four-in-a-row champion, has played second fiddle to Bautista so far this season, the Spaniard yet to be beaten in practice, qualifying or the opening six races on his all-new Ducati V4.
Three quarters of a second separated the top five yesterday, with Bautista half a second ahead of Alex Lowes.
Then came Rea, Tom Sykes and impressive Ulsterman Eugene Laverty on his Team Goeleven Ducati.
After Bautista laid down the gauntlet, Rea said: "Our biggest target this weekend is to close the gap on Ducati. They are the benchmark and we are working hard and making good steps.
"I struggled in the first session with my riding and things on the bike. We made some changes and the bike was much better and I immediately felt more at home.
"Front-end stability is something we can improve on, also the longevity of the rear tyre for the races is very important and maybe the advantage will be less this weekend, we'll see.
"Aragon is a fast-flowing circuit with just one long straight in the last sector and although the gap to Alvaro (Bautista) is still too big, we won't give up."
Laverty, meanwhile, had his best session of the 2019 series to date. He was the top independent runner and continued to build on the steps he and the team made with their new machine in Australia and Thailand.
The Toomebridge man will hope for better luck this weekend than he had at the Chang Circuit, where he was forced to bail out at 170mph in race one when his brakes failed, fortunately without injury.
His Ducati disintegrated after hitting a wall and Laverty was forced to sit out the final two races through no fault of his own.
Meanwhile, the Dunlop Masters Superbike Championship kicks into gear at Mondello Park near Naas today with a strong line-up in the feature classes for Superbike and Supersport.
Defending Superbike champion Richie Ryan will start as favourite, having dominated pre-season testing less than a fortnight ago on his Yamaha.
The series enters its 10th year with arguably the best field of riders and machines to contest the Masters to date with Peter Moloney (Suzuki), Luke Johnston (BMW) from Cullybackey, Chris Campbell leading the Kawasaki brigade, and Emmet O'Grady on the latest generation Honda Fireblade all looking to dethrone the champion.
Ducati and Aprilia will also be represented with Michael Prendergast and Stephen Magill at the controls.
The Supersport class has a full grid and with last year's champions having moved on, a very open field should produce fast and close racing with Graham Whitmore impressive in testing on his Kawasaki with Dave Butler, Luke Higgins, Michael Owens and Oisin Maher looking for impressive results.
A full programme of support races for Supertwin, Pre-Injection, Moto 400, Classic Superbikes, Junior Cup and a strong field of Sidecars should provide a great weekend's racing.
The Masters Motorcycle Show will take over a large part of the Mondello paddock, the highlight of which should be the displays by international stunt riding star Mattie Griffin and Minibike racing demonstrations alongside indoor and outdoor exhibits all included in the Masters ticket price on the day of €15.